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by Jennifer Tucker Johnson
While the research on the benefits of exercise during and after pregnancy is clear, most women are unsure and confused about it
Women who exercise during pregnancy have reduced risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and preterm birth. They also have fewer pregnancy-related discomforts such as back pain and water retention, increased stamina and muscle control and a faster and less-painful delivery.
New moms who exercise after delivery can experience faster physical and emotional recovery, lower incidence of postpartum depression, improved abdominal muscle tone, and improved ability to lose weight gained during pregnancy. Their babies are more likely to be healthy and calm with improved neurological development.
So why is pregnancy still associated with a sharp decline in exercise?
One of the reasons is that pregnancy is a time of constant change and with this comes uncertainty and fear. Women feel a deep responsibility to provide the best environment for their growing babies but are often confused about what’s best. They face a barrage of information about what to do and what not to do on almost everything, including exercise.
They look to their doctors, family and friends for guidance, but unfortunately the advice given is often outdated, contradictory and incorrect.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend, in the absence of medical or obstetric complications, that pregnant women engage in 30 or more minutes of moderate exercise a day.
This seems like a pretty clear message, but because medical schools don’t include prenatal/postpartum exercise in their curriculum, many doctors don’t bring up the subject and are often overly cautious when they do have to address it. And among society as a whole, pregnancy is still widely believed to be a delicate condition and women are encouraged to spend the entire nine months resting.
As a perinatal exercise specialist, I see the following scenario again and again: Women will Google “prenatal exercise” and “prenatal yoga” comes up on the search. They then think stretching and relaxing must be the only safe activity to do.
Yoga has an important place as a component of a balanced prenatal exercise program, but it shouldn’t be the only activity a woman does. Prenatal exercise should incorporate aerobic exercise, strengthening, stretching, and relaxation/breathing. Each of these elements does something different for the mind and body, and all work together to keep the mother to be healthy and strong.
No matter what type of birth a woman ends up having, her muscles, joints and tissues will be challenged by the rapid changes that occur throughout the childbearing year. Physical and emotional preparation for these changes is essential. Every woman, of course, is unique and an exercise program should be tailored to meet her needs in order for it to be sustainable, enjoyable and effective.
Jennifer Tucker Johnson is a certified perinatal exercise specialist and founder of Pasadena-based Fit for Expecting (www.fitforexpecting.com).
It's true that medical schools don't teach future doctors about the importance of exercise during pregnancy. In fact, I'm not sure that Ob/Gyn residents learn much about it either. As a pediatrician, I can definitely say that the new moms I see who exercised during and after pregnancy recovered faster and were better equipped to deal with the stresses of parenthood.
by Stephen Shih, MD
Harbor City, CA
10/25/2012 - 08:15 pm
Pregnant and new mothers need this valuable information for their health and the health of their babies. Thank you for publishing this in your magazine!
South Pasadena, CA
10/25/2012 - 12:18 pm
Wonderful piece of work and very informative. To the point. I will share this article with my patients.
by Duncan Wigg, PhD
South Pasadena, CA
10/25/2012 - 11:51 am